“Co” – An Important Prefix to Some Words In Engaging with Aging

Coexist: to live/exist with

Cooperate: to willingly to work with

Collaborate: to actively engage in partnership with

No man is an island entire of itself” (John Dunne, 1624). Nor do we age in total isolation though it may feel like it at times.

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As an ager who lives alone in her home I’m very much an insider within my world of the aging and an outsider to others’ age-related worlds. But I’m not really alone. In varying degrees of closeness I’m relating to others, one way or another. I’m fortunate to have caring, interested people with whom I have face to face contact and many I know only virtually as we share of ourselves via computer and other means. Some relationships are family, friends, or casual encounters. Others are intermittent, time limited professional contacts. So there are many interpersonal options for my “ co-relationships”.

At present I can’t think of any who merely co-exist for me. Perhaps fleeting, focused ones via computer communication. But even casual intermittent contacts with those who primarily relate to me in terms of service tend to turn into momentary enjoyable, mutual encounters. As for the future?   I may yet have to learn how to coexist and tolerate. Will it occur in situations where I have less control over my lifestyle, lose my ability to speak or ?

I can identify some instances where the relationship is one of cooperation. Recently I was meeting a dental hygienist for the first time. Sitting with one’s mouth open suggests necessary cooperation and not much more.   I wondered if I could achieve more than a cooperative relationship. To my surprise and delight, it became possible through snatches of conversation before, during and after. We each learned from the other and looked forward to the next encounter.

It seems that most of my relationships are purposefully collaborative, whatever the encounter. With family and friends in our frequent casual contacts, mutuality and collaboration seem to be central to our enjoying each other as thoroughly as possible. (My need to have everyone “feel at home” and pitch in on any needed activity tends to dispense with formality.) Our interactions offer personal perspectives and often spark ideas that might not have emerged otherwise. In the end it feels as if each one is feeling both more fulfilled and enjoyed.

Even when I met my new doctor for the first time, he opened the door to collaboration by asking what I wanted to achieve in the intake interaction. I was taken aback as no physician had ever asked me that. I surprised him by responding that I wanted to begin to form a working relationship with him. (I wanted one where we each understood the needs and goals of the other.) In my next appointment, once I’d met his needs to update my database, I asked him if he wanted to know the status of my ARCs (age related changes), as they might affect my health care. He did. My concise presentation probably took a couple of minutes. (I’d rehearsed it.) He took notes and asked questions. He had data about me that he wouldn’t have had if I had only cooperated. Based on that collaborative endeavor, months later, I handled a post-fall emergency appointment with a different physician by providing data on my ARC status and daily living demands that were serious deterrents to the proposed treatment. For the first time in my life I rejected the normally accepted treatment— I’m living well with a tiny broken bone in my left hand.

For my part, it would seem that all this may be possible because I still can see, hear (with some assistance) think and react. I have no pain or other manifestations of pathology that interfere with my capacity to interact freely. A time may come when that will change. “To everything there is a season . . .”

Comments from readers who are having different experiences with coexisting, cooperating and collaborating will be enlightening for me and other readers

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100th Blog Posting: A Time to Look Back and Ahead

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It’s still hard to believe that I (a social media troglodyte) began writing a blog at the age of 95. I’m so grateful for the two people who made it come to life. The one who believed I had something to write about and the creative expert who generously and dependably takes care of the technical aspects each week.

I know it’s true, but it’s rather mind-boggling to realize that in the two years since that first posting (mid-August, 2017) I’m posting my 100th blog post. And there are more in varying states in the queue.

What a journey it has been! Such unanticipated impacts on my life! Writing to you has sharpened my own “engaging” skills. It’s one thing to engage with aging casually, harder to do it purposefully, and even harder to put it into words that will make sense and be usable to others. Thinking about this blog has become a red thread in the tapestry of my life as I interweave my ARCed aging capacities with daily living demands and then write about it. I wake in the morning, ideas churning, eager to start the day. The activity has changed and continues to change me. Others have commented that I seem younger and more vibrant at 97 than I was at 95, and it rings true (even as I obviously age).

As I began thinking about writing a blog, I saw myself as a female ager writing from my encounters in engaging with aging as I gain insights. I am definitely not an expert on aging in general, just mine! I am limited in my vision by the reality that I am a remarkably healthy former RN/faculty member/writer and widowed nonagenarian, living alone in a home she owns, with two supportive sons, their wives and three granddaughters (all of whom live within a few miles). I realized that my blog would reflect my blind spots about aging in other circumstances. So there would be no “how to’s”, just vignettes of my own EWA encounters, reactions and insights. We all are being carried down the river of aging, but each of us has our own river to navigate and our own approaches.

With these caveats in mind I decided that I would:

  • offer my experiences, insights and ideas as potential points of departure for the reader’s own unique situation and capacities.
  • limit my focus to EWAing with normal age-related changes (ARCs) precisely because I didn’t have pathology and its treatment interwoven with my normal ARCs and daily living.   My thinking is that ARC-affected capacities are what any ager brings to living with an overlay of pathology and its management. (Care providers need to know about them too.)
  • view the aging experience broadly while giving the health element its necessary place
  • focus on the impact of ARCs on the details of everyday living. Again, because I was living with these nasty snags. (Besides outsiders to the world of the aged were researching and writing about ARCs, but it takes an insider to see their personal impact.)
  • use a “light” approach in my writing style in line with my belief that data are neutral, including data on one’s emotional-laden responses to aging and its effects
  • seek images to enhance the ideas to stretch the reader’s mind

Looking ahead, I foresee postings that reflect my accumulating, progressing ARCs, their effects that are creating increasingly difficult challenges and the constant, conscious adaptations that fill the minutes and hours of my day. I’ll continue to share what I can of my ongoing journey.

When I no longer can, let’s agree that, “To everything there is a season. . . .”

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I am so grateful to those of you who join me on my blogging efforts by commenting or otherwise giving me feedback.   I feel like Longfellow’s archer who “ . . . shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where. . .”.   Your input lets me know where at least some of them land. Beyond that I value your reactions and learn from your comments. Let’s move on together.

Companions on my Journey in the World of Aging

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If I count the beginning of my journey into aging as my 65th birthday when I officially was placed in the demographic “check the over 65” box, then my road has been 32 years long. And what trip into both the known and unknown it has been. I’d seen others make the journey and read a lot about what the road and the territory would be like. But as with any journey, one’s personal road experience is much more vivid, filled with both the expected and surprises.

Sharing the first years of the journey with my husband, our sons and then their wives and daughters made for a secure and joyous experience. The experience of traveling solo, when he died was literally a first for me. It was not that I lacked for support from my family, but the day to day travel was suddenly so different. It took time to learn that I could be “good company” to myself and that solitude could be a positive experience.

Over the years as my ARCs (age related changes) crept in and accumulated, the edges of the world I could travel in also shrank. I became increasingly dependent on fellow travelers coming into my world, rather than my being able to move along on their roads.

And here is where more of aging’s surprises occurred. Companions appeared on the road to walk with me, both in the real and virtual world. I found friendships blooming in both worlds. By now, all of my companions are at least one generation younger than I, many three or four. And my companions turned out to be so thoughtful, generous and often exhilarating.

I’m fortunate that my sons and their families live geographically close. But beyond that, as family and individuals they have remained personally close to the point where we comfortably share parts of our lives, even though they have busy lives of their own. Importantly, they make me feel enjoyed and genuinely, thoughtfully included. What a gift that is!

I’ve also experienced other fellow travelers.   They not only share the journey, but offer so much more.   I have skilled cooks who provide food care packages, a man who keeps my hummingbird feeder cleaned and filled—dead heads the garden and sees other things that need attention, a woman who unfailingly keeps me supplied with library books that suit my reading taste, someone who now does my grocery shopping for me (I still cook-from-scratch). I have a primary care giver who drops over every morning to see “What needs doing?” and smoothly makes that day go well, checks the status of the house and negotiates with contractors for services needed if he can’t fix it—in other words, gives me security. The son and family who travel more have taken me along as a member of the family and make the adaptations needed to permit me to go.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all has been that at 95, professional colleagues from my university reestablished contact with me as an emerita. The result has been my returning to use my brain in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. It started with my dubious venturing into writing this blog,   Then at 96 it bloomed in to participation in a project to further study and utilize the Engaging with Aging approach to daily living with advancing years.   These colleagues not only come to my house for meetings, but bring food as well. Students and faculty have joined me on my journey and have made side excursions possible that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.

At 97 I look back at my trekking in the world of aging and see its surprising twists, turns and challenges.   I cherish and am amazed at the generosity and companionship of those who have offered to walk with me. They’ve not only kept me green and growing but made it a time of unanticipated support, caring, struggle, growth and joy.

For readers who are yet-to-be-ageds, don’t underestimate the value of your sharing the road with those of us who have been on it longer. You enable us to thrive.

Why My EWA Blog Doesn’t Address Pathology or Trauma-Affected Daily Living

Everyone who survives into the latter years of the lifespan experiences progressing, accumulating ARCs (age related changes) that affect all aspects of their daily living. On top of what’s natural and normal, most will also experience pathology and trauma and the demands of its management. These further affect agers’ requirement in daily living and their resources for managing them.

I came to aging well-armed with book-knowledge about and some experience in caring for people with both normal aging and pathology prevalent in aging. I thought I knew what to expect. And, as far as those expectations went, it was useful. But it was not enough! I’ve been one of the fortunate agers whose health seemed to remain intact. My ARCs emerged, progressed and accumulated, just as the books said they would.   What I haven’t experienced is the overlay of pathology or serious trauma.

Given this background, I found that what I hadn’t learned as an outsider was the reality of ever-present ARC impact on so much of my daily living. I began to live with Hyman Rickover’s insight that “the devil is in the details, but so is the salvation”.   My constellation of ARCs (even in my daily living as a healthy, well supported, super-ager), bedevil me and trip me up throughout each day. I struggle to understand, to learn, to adapt, to work over or around them or eliminate what I can’t manage. As an inside-ager, I’m respectfully gaining new working knowledge daily.

I am realizing that my normal ARCs plus the knowledge I have of them and the skills I have developed in dealing with them are all that I or any other ager “bring to the table” when pathology or trauma add new requirements to daily living and alter my capacities and resources for managing them.

Given my own situation, I feel honest in writing about my insider daily-living-with-my- normal ARCS . I know that this is important and will affect actually living with pathology and its management if or when it occurs. I can only speculate how specific pathologies and their management could:

alter specific capacities I now have

increase/modify the requirements in my daily living

change my relationships with my support figures and external assets.

I also have learned that my relationships with family, care providers and friends are more effective when I neutrally and honestly communicate my EWA status and its impact to them. I expect that this same deliberate transparency should apply in my interaction with those who will help me manage my EWAing with the overlay of pathology and it’s management.   And, since there can be a risk of my losing my thinking/community capacities, I’d be wise to prepare my designated care providers to be able to be my voice in communicating with health care providers if I no longer can. I’m actively doing that.

There’s an old saying that “the shoemaker should stick to his last”. I take it to mean that I should know what I can write about, write it well and not go beyond that.

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So, I leave it to fellow-agers who are actually living with normal ARCs and the overlay of pathologies and their management to share the reality-based, specialized working knowledge and arts they have gained in their own blogs.   And of course your comments on my EWA posts that offer insights of application to your different situations can offer EWA readers and me insights that are useful.

After the Fall was Over – Resilience or ???

Resilience: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened  –  Merriam-Webster

 an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change – Cambridge Dictionary

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In 1891 Harris wrote a lilting waltz tune about a young man’s disappointment “After the Ball was Over”. The tune came to mind as I was recovering from a recent fall hence the blog title. I haven’t written much about falls, because fortune has favored me with few of them in my decades of aging and none has been more traumatic than leaving me feeling a bit banged up for a time. But I have felt disappointment, even anger, certainly frustration after the fall was over.

My recent fall resulted in minor trauma. But at 97 it was a different experience. By this time my half dozen ARC imps (age related changes) had become my constant companions, poking their noses into many if not most of my daily activities. They seemed to see my fall and slightly banged up state as a great time to create more mischief. My Balance ARC kept me scarily feeling like I might topple over whenever I was upright, particularly when I first rose in the morning. My Strength ARC imp’s tactic was to make it even more difficult for me to rise from sitting to standing and to grasp or manipulate things with my already weakened hands. Stamina’s imp made me head for the recliner after just a small amount of activity and made me feel as if this was the only place to be. My Short Term Memory ARC, as usual (only more so) sneakily bedeviled me with its unpredictability in enabling me to recall information I needed and caused worry that there might be some recall I needed but didn’t even realize. My self-confidence was shaken. And all this with hardly any trauma! My well springs of reserve seemed drained dry and snail-paced at refilling. Now with so much ARC imp mischief, how was I going to be “happy and successful” again, “recover from or adjust easily”?

Well, it appeared I was going to have plenty of time to think about it as I lazed in my recliner.   My long term memory (that seems to be working very well) came up with a Bible verse. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. . .” (Matthew 26:41). That’s where I was now. Fortunately, I found that I still had spirit, I had blog ideas just waiting to be written, projects in various states—things to think about, things I could do that didn’t take much physical energy or strength. Some of them, I could do sitting at my desk or even making notes in my recliner.   I wanted and needed to recover in the best way possible. I accepted that it might be frustratingly slow, but at least it seemed doable and highly desirable.

Of course it helped immeasurably that family and nearby friends checked in on me by phone and in person, did the few things I needed but couldn’t do. And provided me with salads, soups and easy to fix food. But pacing myself and being satisfied with small gains would be frustrating. I also realized that falls, like having pneumonia, made one more vulnerable for recurrence.   I needed to keep my wits about me, be careful and no hurrying!!!!!!

Days later I realized that falls actually were learning opportunities. I analyzed this last fall and saw that I had broken two of my EWA commandments:

always keep nose and toes in alignment when turning

stop and center consciously before taking that first step after turning (particularly after rising from sitting).

If I were to avoid high risk falls now, I needed to purposefully follow both of these. I needed to avoid hurrying for any reason. I needed to keep my expectations and plans in alignment with my capacities.

Beyond these, I would work on patience, identify small gains and be grateful for them. I’m still green, still growing.

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Aging is More than Health

Healthy:   possessing or enjoying good health, a sound and vigorous mind and body; freedom from disease or ailment

Health: a perspective for judging the status of mind and body, or the merits of a presenting situation in terms of being conducive to a sound body and vigorous mind

The way non-aged people view aging and the aged tends to be linked to their background and particular interests. Individuals, relatives, groups, disciplines, professions, businesses, legislators, economists and governmental agencies each view aging and the aged through their own mindsets, value systems and purposes.   Many of them include the health of the aged or their environments in their considerations and actions.

As a nurse, I was taught to view aging from birth to death from the perspective of health, normal versus abnormal.

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I looked at my patients and their environments through the lens of health and I worked for its promotion, maintenance, preservation, treatment and palliation. My viewpoint was wide-ranging even as I aimed for specificity with individual patients. But in my mind (rightly or wrongly), health however applied, tended to involve gradients of healthy and unhealthy.

Now, decades into engaging with my own aging, I find that seeing aging solely, or even primarily, through the lens of health is too confining.

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I sense that it can put blinders and dampers on truly significant facets of my aging experience. That bothers me.

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I don’t question that my health is hugely important to the quality of my life and aging, nor that my behavior and activities are strong influences on my health. I know that my health determines what I can engage with and how I am able to engage.   It’s just that I’m discovering that aging is so much more than health.   For example, nutrition, hydration and exercise are seen as three pillars of healthy aging. Yet the experiences of eating drinking and moving about each day encompass so much more than the health promoting considerations.   I experience the sensory elements, the tastes, textures, aromas.   I recall wonderful associated memories of food-related occasions, both ordinary and grand. The same holds true with movement related experiences. Thinking about the richness of these memories it makes me want to anticipate and enjoy them in present and future activities without having to look at them through the lens of health during the experience.

My aging is filled with intangibles of life and living, with all its richness, its flaws, its details, its marvelous surprises and unexpected pitfalls.   It’s the contemplation of life and death. The experiences of blessed solitude and the warmth of companionship with people who have such wide interests and fresh ideas or different experiences of the past. It’s the seasons and weather in all their dimensions. It’s art and music, comedy and drama.   It’s my vistas of mountains and water; the busy daytime city and the quiet, amber of its nighttime. It’s the ballet and battles of hummingbirds at the feeder and the busyness of mason bees going in and out of their homes outside my kitchen window. It’s the movement in tall evergreens in the invisible winds and their windless stillness. It’s the comfort of a cat on my lap and the warmth of hugs. The aroma of the first cup of coffee and the uncertainty of completing the morning crossword puzzle.   It’s the joy in feeling fulfilled. It’s the mourning with losses. It’s being both needy and yet capable of helping others. It’s knowing and still learning. It’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I don’t want to feel hemmed in by obligatory calculations of their effect on my health in the midst of these experiences.   I want to freely, profoundly experience all these and more, unalloyed and unexamined.

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I’m not foolish. I want to retain and use my health lens appropriately and creatively. I want and need to securely keep and use it . . . . in its proper place.

 

“Let there be light”

Genesis 1:3

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These days I’m finding that I need ever more light, for tasks involving my eyes, for navigating safely, reading, writing and for my mood. I know ARCs (age related changes) involving the eyes reduce the amount of light that can enter the brain. Eyelids sag, and the muscles that control the opening the pupil to let in light become weaker.   The number of rods in the back of the eye not only decrease in number, but those that remain become less functional. My brain is receiving less light. The areas of impact in my daily living are multiple, involving not only tasks requiring acuity of vision, but also my balance and mood.

I’m lucky to have wonderful external resources. Our home has lots of big windows, particularly in the kitchen, living-dining room and my office. Whatever light is outside, comes in. Even at night (if it isn’t raining), the amber lights of the city form a lovely night light throughout the living room. Street lights through the drapes offer dim night lighting in the bedroom throughout the night. As for artificial lighting, my husband built in lighting over all the important work areas in addition to the ceiling lights. (Little did he know then, that decades later I would need all of them.) In the central hall that connects all the rooms there are small night lights that are on at all times and lights that turn on automatically when one goes down the stairs.

I can control lighting in my home, but not the seasons and the weather.   Each year autumn inevitably moves on to winter months that seems to inch along like very cold molasses. In addition, our region is characterized by multiple, persistent gray days—with or without rain. By the end of February I’m sagging physically and emotionally. I long for the longer days to become more apparent.

For months, I’ve worked to keep my spirits up. I wear brighter colored clothes to lighten things up—brighter, deeper, richer colors. I put on makeup, even when it’s just me that sees it. I read light entertaining books. Seek out music in major keys.   I light candles (a habit I developed after my times of working in Sweden during their long hours of darkness in autumn and winter).   A son encouraged me to replace the wood fireplace in the living room with a gas one with realistic logs. (It even has remote switches). What a great idea! Its dancing yellow-orange/blue-edged flames and glowing coals now lighten, brighten and warm me and my visitors in both days and evenings. It gives me a sense of companionship.

This year our region is enjoying a warmer, sunnier spring. I’ve gloried in it! While I regularly use my motto of “To everything there is a season. . . .” I’m so glad when those seasons are spring and summer.   I never appreciated that nature’s light could be so important. Just another of the many surprises aging has sprung on me.